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  • Writer's pictureTracy Manuel


As an interior designer, I get asked this question all the time. An interior designer is a graduate from an accredited university who has spent years studying color theory, design relations, lighting calculations, interior structural components, in-depth study in finishes, codes, codes, codes, sustainable design, evidence based design, visual computerization, environmental graphics, human anthropometrics (look it up :), history, building construction, studio arts, geology, space planning/programming/construction administration and so on. The areas of concentration depend on your university and the student. For me, these are all areas that I studied leading to my Bachelor of Interior Design, a professional undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University. All designers are not created equal.

So what does all the jargon mean in a real world? An interior decorator can be anyone that has a passion for making things look pretty. Typically, if they're a good decorator, they have real world experience in residential decorating. Decorators can even recommend products for commercial settings, however, time and time again I've spotted residential fixtures, furniture and fabrics in hotels that after a year, they are breaking and falling apart because there is a difference in constructibility and wearability - and that's why you need an interior designer for commercial applications, not to mention that hefty lawsuit when a patron sits down on the stool at your bar and that puppy breaks - hope you're covered!

For residential, if you're looking for some new furniture or basic space planning, a decorator would probably be just fine. Heck, most furniture stores offer this service with a purchase. Typically, decorators make their money off of upcharging end goods whereas interior designers charge for their design and management so decorators are fully versed in the purchasing of residential goods. A good designer is going to get you the right products and the lowest prices, so it actually saves the end user moneys up front and in the future with replacement costs. Recently, on a commercial job with a local distributer who only sold to decorators and contractors where product was up charged, it was assumed I would take the traditional $.50/sq ft "fee" on the floor finish that was being specified. That fee totaled $8,450.00, which was considerably more than my design fee. Ethically, I had to decline, but am still thinking "what a fee!" Anyway, I'm digressing.

Residential bathrooms and kitchens are where you really want to consider hiring an experienced professional (again, not all experienced professionals are created equal). These are the places you'll be throwing down some real money and will want to have input from someone experienced. Even if you're planning to DIY, a designer can give you advice. Now that doesn't mean that an experienced decorator can't assist you. Before I became degreed I had remodeled more than a dozen homes and had immense life experience to bring to the table. But I could only advise against my experience, so if something came up where I had no experience, it was generally a crap shoot of "oh I wish I had known" or "wow, this turned out good". I recently did a walk-through where an interior designer designed a residential kitchen where some of the drawers didn't fully open because the facing styles weren't calculated during design. I would consider that a costly mistake.

If you're looking to put some lipstick on your house and really just want some new paint, a decorator will work great, or your neighbor, heck, you can ask your facebook friends or the person mixing paint. But if there's some tricky solutions or areas where you'll be spending some major cash - I highly recommend you consult an experienced interior designer. Someone recently sent me a picture of a bathroom remodel and asked for my input. I've included my response in the pictures below.

Commercial design - always seek the advise of an interior designer - always. The law does state that architects can practice interior design, but I am unaware of an architectural program that studies interior design. Most programs study space planning when it comes to placement of doors and stairs in accordance to ADA and building codes, but most programs don't study design in depth.

I recently read up on myelin-depletion, and can carry on a decent conversation regarding the topic. Am I going to start giving out neurological advice? No. Could I give out neurological advice? Sure - it's America.

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